2021 Global Digital PR Agencies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2021 Global Digital Agencies of the Year

The 2021 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 500 submissions and (virtual) meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEAAsia-Pacific and LatAm.

Analysis of all of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are announced at the 2021 Global SABRE Awards, which took place virtually at the 2021 PRovokeGlobal Summit on 27 October. 

 

Finalists

Clyde (US/Independent)

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In 2014, a successful battle against kidney cancer prompted Alex Slater (a veteran of Glover Park and SKD Knickerbocker) to found Clyde Group as a purpose-driven firm with a specific focus on media relations and crisis communications. 2020 proved to be something of a watershed year for Clyde Group, with impressive growth and a slew of new initiatives focusing on such critical areas as DE&I, distributed working, pro bono activity and social impact. 

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Washington DC (HQ).

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Clyde grew fee income by an impressive 35% in 2020, with headcount up from 18 to 31. There was new business from Bristol Myers Squibb, Yes on Proposition 22, NewsGuild-CWA, Mission: Readiness, George Mason University College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Instructure, Trevena, Monday Properties and Rhino, which join an existing client roster that features Navy Federal Credit Union, Sallie Mae, George Mason University School of Business, National Institutes of Health, National Industries for the Blind, Ipsos, The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Gearbox Entertainment, and Rover. 

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Founding partner Alex Slater is supported by partner/MD Aubrey Quinn, who has helped oversee considerable growth at the firm since 2016. Principal Anthony LaFauce leads the firm’s digital practice, while principal Matt House oversees the growing public affairs practice. Like many firms, Clyde stepped up employee wellbeing, development and retention programmes in 2020, including training, mental health and resilience training initiatives. The firm also invested in anti-racism training with an external consultant, made significant donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and formalized its Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability (or IDEA) Group. Clyde has started benchmarking its DE&I progress, and has implemented its own version of the Rooney Role.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Clyde’s focus on crisis communications and media relations was broadened in 2020 by increased investment in creative and design, digital and thought leadership, the latter of which includes a partnership with global research firm Ipsos. Clyde’s thought leadership activity includes a dedicated portal to help clients navigate the implications of Covid-19, conversations on racial justice and the political landscape. The firm’s partnership with Ipsos, meanwhile, whose data has informed the creation of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ new messaging guide on police reform, and the launch of the NOTIFY app, designed to reduce Covid-19 rates in senior living. Campaign highlights included a successful push to help local news outlets gain access to the Paycheck Protection Program; supporting Yes on Proposition 22’s successful campaign; and Mission: Readiness’ report on childhood obesity and its impact on military eligibility.

Arun Sudhaman

Coolr (UK/Independent)

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Adam Clyne, former EMEA digital chief at Weber Shandwick and LADbible COO, founded Coolr in 2017 as a new breed of digital agency, bringing together big agency thinking with the speed and agility of a social publishing platform. Clyne’s mission is to transform brands through social, inside and out, by helping brands find new ways to engage audiences. Completely plugged into popular culture, the agency is often behind the most talked-about campaigns and creating work that trends regularly on social and generates worldwide editorial cut through. The agency recently launched content agency Coolr Studios in beta mode to serve existing clients with social-first content. 

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Coolr is based in London.

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Despite many of its food and drink and automotive clients freezing overnight as lockdown hit, Coolr got back up after a few weeks of trauma, wiped its face and cracked on: fee income for its financial year to March ended up 20% up and Q3 was the strongest quarter in the agency’s four-year history. The team of digital strategists, developers and creators, from backgrounds spanning publishing, communications, content and tech, grew by 40% over the year to 30. The team continued its stand-out work as Burger King UK’s social media agency of record, and is also the social agency for Twinings and The Follicular Lymphoma Foundation. It handles digital internal communications for Bridgestone, the Telegraph Media Group and Savills Property Management, and is the global partner of Soho House for Workplace from Facebook (for which it was the first EMEA official partner). New clients included a global brief for Rockstar Energy Drinks, UK social ads for Heineken and Strongbow and social, digital and influencer briefs for other household-name food, drink and technology brands in the UK, across Europe, and globally.

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Coolr’s biggest challenge over the year was how to keep the team happy, healthy and motivated in the midst of a pandemic which left everyone facing personal challenges. It helped that the agency was able to seamlessly transition to home working: it had already been trialling working at home on Fridays and its longstanding partnership with Workplace from Facebook helped everyone feel connected. It introduced a number of activities, from daily whole-agency calls, Zoom quizzes, Instagram takeovers, Spotify playlists and TikTok fun, to lockdown cooking sessions, Tarot readings, virtual Friday get-togethers, sending out regular care packages of treats, and a wellbeing fund for everyone to take out a health or mental health app subscription. The Coolr team is a diverse group from a religious, sexuality and ethnicity perspective: 16% are Black, Asian or mixed ethnicity, and 25% identify as being from a non-Christian faith. The agency works with recruiters and the Taylor Bennett Foundation to fill vacancies, and requires 30% of candidates to be from a diverse background.

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Coolr led the UK roll out of two of the year’s most talked-about brand campaigns on social. ‘Order From McDonald’s’, a tweet which encouraged Burger King customers to buy from any food outlet to keep the hospitality industry going through lockdown became its second most engaged tweet to date, attracting 11.2 million impressions. And the #WhopperAndFriends campaign supported small independent businesses across the UK by lending them Burger King UK’s Instagram account, complete with a ready-made community of 30,000. Coolr featured more than 120 independent restaurants from across the country, driving total impressions of 27.8 million. As the social agency of record for new charity Nurse Heroes, Coolr built and executed a 360-degree social and digital plan, reaching millions via a Facebook Livestream and helping raise more than $500,000.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

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Edelman has been the world’s largest independent public relations agency since the wave of acquisitions that swept the industry in the 80s and 90s and saw its rivals fall into the hands of the giant ad agency holding groups. It has turned its independence into a source of competitive advantage, family ownership allowing more flexibility on profit margins and greater nimbleness, particularly in terms of new investments. It has a well-balanced portfolio that spans consumer and corporate, healthcare and tech, and has been at the forefront of the industry’s advance into digital and paid media and broader creative.

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Edelman is headquartered in New York, and operates an extensive network of 13 offices in the US and an additional five in Canada, as well as an extensive footprint in EMEA, the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

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While Edelman’s revenues were down 5.7% during the calendar year, the picture for its fiscal year (which ended in June) was much rosier, with growth in the low single digits. And much of that growth was driven by the firm's advanced digital and performance marketing capabilities. In Asia, for example, many of Edelman’s account wins and expanded assignments include a significant digital element, including Singapore’s MINDEF and Ministry of Health; the Singapore Tourism Board, Mitsubishi Power, Samsung Australia, California Almonds, Mars Wrigley and Mediatek. 

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A major management restructuring early in 2021 saw the elevation of Lisa Osborne-Ross elevated to US president, with incumbent Russell Dubner taking on a new role chairing the Edelman Trust Institute, but there were other significant appointments in 2020, including Kirsty Graham, who joined from Pfizer as CEO of Edelman Public Affairs; Ogilvy veteran Michele Anderson, who was named vice chair, brand, US; former Chevron CCO Dave Samson, named vice chair, corporate affairs; Helga Ying from the International AIDS Society as global and US chair of purpose; and former GE communications chief Deirdre Latour to lead the New York office. In 2018, Edelman committed to reach 30% workforce diversity in the US by 2022—the firm is currently closing in on 27%.

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Edelman’s digital product innovation is extensive in Asia-Pacific, covering such areas as digital crisis, predictive analytics, footprint mapping, AI-driven auditing, psychographic content analysis and paid amplification. Specifically, there were three separate social commerce pilots, involving Shopify, along with a stronger focus on digital executive thought leadership, the latter of which was best exemplified by successful work for Microsoft, Mitsubishi Motors and PayPal on LinkedIn. That focus on B2B demand generation was further illustrated by impressive lead-gen work for Mitsubishi Power. Edelman’s digital studios, meanwhile, will house 60 people by the end of its 2022 fiscal year —using Adobe After Effects and Unreal Engine to build a dynamic content offering — and reflected by a Sunkist campaign that integrated the brand to notable effect with Animal Crossing. DXI offerings, meanwhile, include a bias detection tool, disinformation shield, Trust IQ and behavioural content developlment — exemplified by risk analytics work for Chevron. Meanwhile, EMEA highlights included the “What’s Your Number?” government campaign from Germany, highlighting violence against women; Danone’s celebration of 100 years, led from France; IKEA’s “Buy Back Friday” initiative in the UK and Ireland; and the Starbucks “#whatsyourname” campaign supporting transgendered youth.

Paul Holmes/Arun Sudhaman

Jin (France/Independent)

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Jin was founded in 2012 by Edouard Fillias, Alexandre Villeneuve and Romain Boudre, who recognised an opportunity to launch a new kind of PR agency that combined digital marketing, technology and influence. One of the very few homegrown French agencies to break beyond its borders, Jin has developed into an international, multilingual boutique with a European core and a digital-first mindset. The agency has also broken the communications agency mould by developing in-house technologies via its Startup-Studio, including Pitchboy, the first VR pitch training tool for sales and customer relationship management. Its corporate practice focuses on supporting C-suite digital and social media leadership in the pharma, banking and manufacturing sectors, while the b rand practice is a French leader in influencer marketing in the food and consumer technology sectors.

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As well as its Paris headquarters, Jin has offices in London, Berlin and Lisbon.

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Last year, Jin raised €3 million in funding from French private equity and venture capital firm CITA Investment as part of its ambition to grow into the leading European digital group. The agency’s fee income rose 21.5% from €9.3 million to €11.3 million, including €1 million from the UK, with headcount increasing from 75 to 80. Jin’s client roster includes Groupe Bouygues, Chipotle, Allianz, Tinder, Philips and Twinings, with new work coming from companies including PayPoint and Total. Beating big networks to the account, Jin became Technicolor’s global agency of record – 60% of its clients now use the agency for global campaigns. Growth came from areas including digital, C-suite communications, and data, analysis and insights. Clients rated Jin’s service at 8/10, and one client, childcare brand Beaba, paused all agencies except Jin because it was critical for traffic generation on its ecommerce site; Jin had a 95% client retention rate over the year, the highest in its history.

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Jin’s employee base is largely millennial, very tech-savvy and used to working virtually across borders, so the transition to remote work was frictionless. Maintaining morale, however, was paramount: the leadership stepped up internal communications to ensure no one was left in isolation, with internal campaigns including the #NoWayLikeHome challenge where every employee was asked to show their secret talent, leading to fun video content. The agency also gave employees access to fitness and wellbeing coaches in each market. Jin has a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination, sexism, bullying and harassment, and has never recorded an employee complaint: this is particularly important at a time where French advertising and PR agencies are under scrutiny, with popular Instagram account #BalanceTonAgency sharing testimonials of harassment.

While French Law prohibits keeping ethnicity data, 50% of Jin employees in managerial positions are women. The agency gives pro bono influencer, social media and PR strategy support to three NGOs: The SeaCleaners, Techfugees, and The Ocean Clean Up. Senior hires included Simon John from Dentsu X as MD of Jin UK. 

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The agency’s thought leadership over the year included The Influencer Manual, a book co-written by CEO Fillias with brand director François-Charles Rohard; The Impact of Technology during COVID-19 report of a survey conducted in France, UK, Germany and the US, which found that the pandemic increased inequalities between generations and revenue brackets when it came to use of technology; ebooks on influencer marketing and directr to consumer, and a guide to digital events. Standout work included an influencer marketing campaign for Philips Hue which led to sales 250% over target and a sold-out lighting range, and social media and influencer work for Halo Top that made it a top-three ice-cream brand in Monoprix supermarkets across France.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Precision Strategies (US/Independent)

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PRovoke Media’s 2020 Public Affairs Agency of the Year, Precision’s roots as pioneering digital and data specialists have served the firm well since its inception in mid-2013, when it was founded by Obama campaign veterans Stephanie Cutter, Jen O’Malley Dillon and Teddy Goff. Precision demonstrates an ability to drive earned, digital and paid media via a more sophisticated understanding of grassroots campaigning than most. That includes the firm’s own data integration and analytics platform, which it launched in 2019 to help support decision-making.

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Washington DC (HQ) and New York. 

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With roots in political campaigns, Precision operated at full throttle in 2020, working with candidates and issue-oriented organizations during a critical election year, negating the chance of a Covid slowdown. Additionally, corporations wading into political conversations for the first time tapped Precision for guidance on how to communicate, particularly in an election year, particularly around issues related to the pandemic, election, or racial justice. All of which helped fuel Precision’s growth in 2020, during which revenue rose 30%.  Fee income last year climbed to $23.3m from $18m in 2019. Precision has grown more than 48% since 2018 — all without acquisitions — while also delivering impressive 30%+ margins.

Precision closed out 2020 with 85 team members, up from 67 at the start of the year. New clients including Brennan Center for Justice, Democratic National Convention Committee, Dollar General, Independent Restaurant Coalition and Presidential Inaugural Committee 2021 joined a roster populated by General Electric, Gilead Sciences, Humana, IBM, March For Our Lives, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Planned Parenthood.

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Precision’s success starts with its leadership; co-founders and partners Stephanie Cutter and Teddy Goff, both of whose experience include running comms strategies for Obama’s presidential campaigns and White House. Other senior leaders include COO Tom Reno, who held the same position at BCW. New hires included Jenn Ridder, who joined from the Biden campaign; former New York Times journalist Ed Wyatt; and former BCW executive VP Tim Rice. When it comes to promoting DEI, Precision has turned to experts, working with a Black-owned, women-owned company on everything from employee training to an audit of hiring practices and refining internal and external communications to be more inclusive. DEI topics are often included in staff meetings. Additionally, Precision recently engaged Jopwell—a leading career advancement platform for Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals—to ensure a diverse pool of applicants for all job postings. 

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As the demand for virtual events increased in 2020, Precision launched a new offering: Precision Events & Experiential Marketing, which helps clients reimagine events traditionally held in person and create new ones, optimizing online engagement. Precision’s work in the arena was front and center for two of the biggest virtual events of the last 12 months: The Democratic National Convention and President Biden’s inauguration. The firm also mobilized to help save small neighborhood restaurants from the ravages of Covid, which put 85% of neighborhood restaurants and bars at risk of permanent closure. Precision helped restaurant and bar owners have a voice in Washington by creating the Independent Restaurant Coalition, whose #SaveRestaurants campaign helped secure $28.6 billion in targeted relief. 

Diana Marszalek